Harvard Facing Three Federal Title IX Investigations

Massachusetts Hall
Massachusetts Hall, the home of Harvard's central administration, is pictured.

Harvard is facing two previously unreported federal investigations into its compliance with anti-sex discrimination Title IX, bringing the total number of active probes of Harvard’s approach to sexual assault to three.

Beyond a widely publicized investigation into a complaint filed against the College in 2014, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has recently launched two additional investigations, according to an OCR list of open cases. One, opened in March 2016, also examines the College’s compliance with Title IX. The other, started in April 2017, focuses on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

While documentation related to the 2016 complaint is not publicly available, the 2017 investigation is reviewing how GSAS administrators responded to a student’s sexual assault complaint against a fellow student, according to case documents published in a Chronicle of Higher Education database.

The Department of Education redacted the name of the complainant and all identifying information in those documents, which include letters to the complainant and University President Drew G. Faust notifying them about the investigation.

“OCR has determined that this allegation is appropriate for investigation,” both letters read. “OCR has determined that it will also investigate whether the University failed to respond promptly and equitably to reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice and whether as a result students were subjected to a sexually hostile environment.”

OCR is also examining whether GSAS failed to adopt and publicize appropriate procedures for responding to sexual assault, designate a Title IX coordinator, and publish notices of nondiscrimination.

GSAS has two Title IX coordinators, Seth Avakian and Jackie Yun, who are part of a network of more than 50 Title IX coordinators across Harvard’s 13 schools.

The office will consolidate the 2017 probe with the other two ongoing Title IX investigations into Harvard, according to the notification letters—meaning that the University is not required to provide data it has already submitted regarding the 2014 and 2016 cases.

When activists with anti-sexual assault advocacy group Our Harvard Can Do Better filed the 2014 Title IX compliant, it quickly received widespread media attention and coincided with a number of broader changes to Harvard’s approach to sexual assault on campus. But the subsequent two complaints have largely flown under the radar.

The Crimson obtained a copy of the 2014 complaint via a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year. Among other charges in their 2014 complaint, members of Our Harvard Can Do Better labeled final clubs “major site[s] of sexual violence”—meaning federal officials may be examining the clubs as part of their investigation.

That probe is likely reviewing the Title IX policies in place at Harvard in 2014, though much has changed since. The University has unveiled a new Title IX policy, expanded and restructured its central Title IX office, and rolled out new sexual assault prevention programming.

But the 2016 and 2017 investigations raise the possibility that the federal government may find Harvard’s updated policies in violation of Title IX.

In a statement, University spokesperson Tania DeLuzuriaga pointed to Harvard’s recent efforts to address sexual assault, although she did not explicitly address the three federal investigations.

“Harvard takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously,” she wrote. “The University has, in recent years, invested a great deal in ensuring the community has the right resources to prevent and respond to instances of sexual assault.”

In addition to the three investigations, Harvard is also facing a lawsuit over its handling of a former student’s sexual assault case. A court denied the University’s motion to dismiss the suit in March.

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at claire.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

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